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Secretary of State Husted Urges Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission to Address Redistricting Reform

COLUMBUS – This afternoon, Secretary of State Jon Husted continued his push for redistricting reform by addressing the Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission. The event took place at the Ohio Judicial Center in Columbus, Ohio.

The Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission was established by the Ohio General Assembly to look at ways to update the state’s constitution. To learn more about the Commission visit   

Secretary Husted’s comments from today’s event have been included below.

Ohio Should Act Now on Redistricting Reform
Testimony to the Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission
By Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted
November 14, 2013

Thank you for inviting me to testify before the Constitutional Modernization Commission on a topic that is very important to me and something I’ve been working on for many years.  I believe that redistricting reform, if done correctly, can be the most important reform to the Constitution in generations, because it has the potential to fix a broken democracy.

I am a conservative Republican who believes that the best leaders throughout our history have been motivated by principles. As Americans, we are most inspired by those who stand up and fight for what they believe -- even when we don’t agree.

However, for our democracy to function as intended, we must be willing to work with those who represent a different point of view. It’s hard to do, but it is the competition of ideas that made America great, not shielding ourselves and our democracy from that competition as the current system of redistricting has done.

As you approach what can be both a great challenge and a great opportunity, I believe it is important for us to answer for the public and ourselves three questions:

Why do we need to reform redistricting?
What are the elements of a good redistricting reform plan?
And how and when do we get there?

Why Do We Need to Reform the System?

This is really the easiest question to answer. You can’t observe the dysfunction and the increasing level of partisanship that prizes power over problem solving and not ask yourself why this has increased over the past decade. There is no single cause for this problem and there is no simple answer, but most fair-minded observers will list the manner in which we draw legislative and congressional districts as a primary cause. Mention “gerrymandering” in almost any public setting and people know what you’re talking about and that it's a problem. Fortunately, it is a problem we also have the ability to fix.

The current system in Ohio has proven to be a winner-takes-all decennial prize where the political party that wins the majority of races for Governor, Auditor and Secretary of State draws the lines for the legislative districts. Those gerrymandered lines lead to one-party control of the legislature. This has allowed, in most cases, one party to draw district lines for congressional seats as well, which secures a majority of congressional seats for that same political party.

The evidence: In the 2012 election, President Barack Obama won the presidency in Ohio by three points. Due (primarily) to the way the district lines are drawn, Republicans retained a congressional majority by a 12-4 margin, the Senate by a 23-10 margin and the House by a 60-39 margin.

This is not to suggest that Republicans are guilty of any wrongdoing. In fact, they followed the process exactly as designed in the Ohio Constitution. It is the Constitution that needs to change, and in doing so we will change the behavior of the people.

When you look at each of the individual congressional races, you will see that there were few competitive seats in the last general election. The closest race was decided by four points and the average margin of victory was 32 points. By and large, the general election no longer matters. The districts are drawn to heavily favor one party over the other and the outcomes of most congressional elections are forgone conclusions.

In fact, our current system has ensured that the big prize in most legislative and congressional elections is the primary election, where small groups of voters are deciding who the congressional or legislative representative is going to be rather than the majority of the population that representative is supposed to serve.

Redistricting in its present form is the fractured foundation on which our legislative branch of government is built. If we want a more responsive government, we need to change the incentives that favor one-party control in the current system so the voices of average Ohioans are both heard and obeyed.

What Are the Elements of a Good Plan?

It’s simple really: Create districts that are compact and competitive through a process that is both bipartisan and transparent.

Since I began working on this issue in 2005, I have seen a lot of plans and discussed a lot of different concepts. While I was House Speaker, I held votes on Republican and Democratic proposals, and even had my own plan passed through the Ohio Senate. No proposal is perfect. However, the framework of my resolution has twice passed the Senate, in 2009 and 2012, and is the only concept to have received bipartisan support. Senators LaRose and Sawyer deserve credit for their continuing work on the proposal.

The foundation of the plan is that it would be inherently bipartisan, composed of a seven-member board, that would include the Governor, Auditor and Secretary of State, as well as one majority and minority appointment from both the Ohio House and Senate. A five-vote supermajority would be required to pass any map, ensuring at least one vote from a minority party member of the committee.

The Board would draw both legislative and congressional districts using the same rules for both. I would recommend using the present (or similar) rules for state legislative districts and apply them to congressional districts, ensuring that you cannot break up counties/communities.

When it comes to population, I would use the rules for congressional districts, meaning that the population numbers could no longer be a 95/105 percent swing, but rather a one-person deviation. (This point has varied in the proposals I have seen.)

Any plan should explicitly include language to ensure that all federal voting rights act requirements are followed.

I would also include a provision that prohibits the Ohio courts or federal courts from drawing a map, but which would give the court the authority to order the Redistricting Commission into session to complete a map should the Commission find itself at an impasse.

Again, these principles comprise the only plan that has received bipartisan support in the legislature and I urge you to use it as a template for your recommendations to the General Assembly.

When Do We Act?

The time to act is now. I strongly recommend that the Commission make a recommendation in time to get a proposal before voters for the 2014 General Election. August 6 is the functional deadline for the General Assembly to put constitutional amendments on the ballot, but practically, it should be finished sooner so that a public campaign can be planned and implemented.  

As we all know, like Superman walking toward Kryptonite – the closer we get to the 2018 election in which the next apportionment board will be decided, the weaker the political will becomes for real reform.

Right now nobody knows which party is going to win the apportionment board majority in 2018. So it's possible to persuade the partisans that they'd be better off with a fair process as opposed to taking the risk of losing in the winner-takes-all system we have now.

In closing, I have learned much from the eight years I have been working on redistricting reform. Timing is everything. Both parties must be at the table. And those responsible for drawing the lines must be accountable to voters. In the end, there is no right or perfect way to draw the lines, but simplicity is a virtue and complexity is the kiss of death. Formulas or ethereal concepts created at some think tank fail when presented to Ohio voters. You build a winning plan by creating a clear and simple process that people can understand and have confidence that it's fair.

You were appointed to this Commission because you are all accomplished leaders who have already contributed a great deal to public service, but I truly believe that your greatest contribution is yet to come.
If you can help lead passage of redistricting reform in Ohio, you will have taken a tangible step forward in fixing our broken democracy and restoring our citizens’ confidence in government.

Thank you for the chance to share these thoughts.

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